PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and a coalition of south-western region civil society groups, the Matabeleland Collective, have come up with a package of measures to address the Gukurahundi genocide; the worst atrocities in the country’s contemporary history.
Editor’s Memo, Dumisani Muleya
The measures include issuing identity documents to victims, reburials, medical access, addressing marginalisation and economic development issues, and ensuring equal opportunity, among other things. This followed a controversial meeting in Bulawayo last month between Mnangagwa and the outfit convened by Pastor Trevor Masuku. Zimbabwe has a history of violence, but nothing in its modern history matches Gukurahundi proportionally in terms of intensity and magnitude. It was killing on an industrial scale. The agenda, the brutality and bloodbath were truly murderous.
Former president Robert Mugabe was the architect, while Mnangagwa and others were the enforcers. There were also executioners — killers — from the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade unit.
Mugabe has, however, refused to take responsibility and apologise beyond calling it “a moment of madness”.
He is even dishonest about the cause of the genocide; he blames his victims and dissidents.
Yet the truth is that he started the process to form the Fifth Brigade outside formal military structures well before former Zipra army officers deserted from the Zimbabwe National Army during the problematic integration and demobilisation processes. The poorly equipped dissidents, who committed crimes of their own, were running scared for their dear lives, not plotting an insurgency.
Apartheid surrogate force, Super Zapu, which worked in collusion with the Fifth Brigade — manifesting Mugabe’s secret deals and marriage of convenience with PW Botha — was better armed and supplied. Facts are critical. Mugabe goes to Pyongyang in 1980 to get a killing manual from Kim Il-sung. He subsequently forms the Fifth Brigade in 1981 after their drills in Nyanga from August 1981 to June 1982. He then deploys his killing machine in January 1983.
A close review of the vast literature now available reveals Mugabe’s true intentions: to destroy Soviet-funded Zapu and its leader Joshua Nkomo, as well as subjugate Ndebeles in aid of his one-party state political agenda in a Cold War context. The tribal undertones of his campaign further suggested a more sinister agenda: ethnic cleansing.
Dissidents committed some crimes, but the Fifth Brigade perpetrated genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression — crimina juris gentium. Crimes against humanity go well beyond individual attacks and killing; they are systematic and strike at the heart of humanity. By their scope and gravity they go beyond the limits tolerable to the international community, which must perforce demand accountability. But crimes against humanity also transcend the individual because the concept and spirit of humanity itself as victim essentially defines them.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman Ge-orge Charamba must get it; his dual responsibility narrative or the sharing of liability on atrocities, is just a non-starter.
Charamba gave an interview to our sister paper, The Standard last Sunday which showed the authorities are still far from manning up to take responsibility and face the ugly truth. He claimed Gukurahundi was a war, which of course is ridiculous (unless we agree it was a war on unarmed civilians), ironically and inadvertently adding more charges against perpetrators: war crimes. He also opposed truth-telling for fear of opening old wounds. Again this won’t wash.
Truth and justice are pivotal to resolving the problem, and ensuring reconciliation and healing. A whitewash to evade the truth, justice and personal criminal responsibility — which scares the living daylights out of perpetrators from the Hagenbach trial through the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals and the former Yugoslavia and Rwandan hearings — is futile.
So what does this mean?
The point is the current process is welcome, but deeply flawed. It needs to be revisited so that it’s legal and independent, guided by truth and justice not perpetrators’ fears and interests. Besides, it’s not for perpetrators to tell victims what to do. But then again it’s always difficult for victims to seek truth and justice from perpetrators, hence political transition usually precedes transitional justice, not vice versa.